Vernon Downs, Tioga Downs To Close Early Without Casino Funds

Written By George Myers on August 26, 2020 - Last Updated on November 30, 2022

Two New York racetracks will close early unless Gov. Andrew Cuomo reverses his decision to keep non-tribal casinos closed.

Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs are now expected to close following the second weekend in September after running out of purse money.

Purse money for horse racing is supplied by slot machines and casino revenue. With casinos closed, funds collected over the winter have dried up.

That means horse racing at Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs will end in September. That departure could last well into 2021.

Closures have major impact on New York casino industry

New York casinos have on average stayed closed longer than other casinos across the nation.

The American Gaming Association’s COVID-19 Casino Tracker shows 862 casinos have reopened following closures caused by the pandemic.

Just 128 casinos remain closed, including all of New York’s non-tribal casinos.

That situation has put Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural in a compromised situation. Both sites had already reduced their schedules to two days a week.

Before COVID-19, Vernon Downs was expected to race through fall and end in November.

“The current plan is to close the weekend after Labor Day, unless by some miracle they allow us to open the casino,” Gural told local media.

“There is no indication that is going to happen.”

Future of New York casinos, racetracks up in air

That lack of indication has in many instances come directly from Cuomo.

Cuomo reiterated his position in late July that casinos are non-essential. Things have not changed.

“A shopping center – people need food, people need clothes, people need home goods,” he said on a conference call. “You don’t need a casino to maintain survival.”

That position does not bode well for operators like Gural, who is dependent on casino revenue to run racetracks.

Cuomo’s hesitancy to open casinos has caused frustration among those who point to the successes of other reopenings.

New York’s tribal casinos, for instance, have reopened and avoided COVID-19 outbreaks. That stands true for other casinos in other states, including sites in the northeast.

“Ordinarily, the cycle would start over again,” Gural told Harness Racing Update.

“The bigger problem is going to be next year. Everything depends on when the casino opens and how much revenue we generate.”

Gural went on to say long-term closures have “destroyed” racing by doing something similar to casinos.

Racetracks could be closed well into 2021 if casinos do not open soon and begin collecting money for purses, believes Gural. Other concerns include decoupling, meaning casinos would not give any revenue to racetracks.

There is also concern Vernon Downs Hotel & Casino could close permanently if casinos are not allowed to open this fall.

Hundreds of workers at the site have already received WARN notices, alongside thousands of other casino workers across New York.

Layoffs could start as early as September for Vernon Downs workers.

“I have reached out to the governor…now that people aren’t getting the $600…I said, ‘Listen you got [sic] to tell me what the plan is, so I should tell my employees whether they should hang in there, or look for another job,” Gural said in a recent interview.

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George Myers

George Myers is a writer with extensive experience in both news and sports reporting. He has primarily covered baseball and football, along with the intersection of sports and lawmaking.

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